For my friends who knew me in high school, I’m sure you’re all really confused as to why I’m now a Republican, and a very outspoken one at that. Before college, I wasn’t nearly as politically active, but when I did give my two cents, my attitude was definitely a liberal one. I would go as far as to say that I was known as the ‘liberal girl’ at my predominately conservative high school. All of that changed my freshman year of college.
Growing up, I always tried to approach disagreements from a neutral perspective, taking my time to learn about both sides of a problem before making a decision. I prided myself on being what I considered ‘tolerant’ and ‘inclusive’ of those who were different from me. I attributed this accepting attitude as a trait that was mutually exclusive with being a Democrat. I would hear the statements made by my conservative classmates, and I would immediately label them as ignorant and bigoted. There was no way in hell at that time that I ever thought I would join the GOP.
Fast forward to my first semester of college. I noticed a brochure sitting on the College Republicans table advertising an opportunity to volunteer for our then candidate-now-Governor Bruce Rauner. Because I had recently completed AP Government the semester before, I was interested in learning more about the political process, and figured volunteering on a campaign could be a great opportunity to do this. Rauner was running a social moderate campaign that focused on fiscal conservatism and taking on the corruption of Illinois politics. So I decided to spend my free time helping elect this man. The backlash I would receive for making this decision would eventually appall me.
When I began telling classmates and friends what I had been doing in my free time my freshman year, I immediately noticed their change in stature and facial expression. Without even giving me a chance to explain myself or why I liked this man, these liberal students who I thought were supposed to be accepting of others would make it clear that I had put a sour taste in their mouth. I would be immediately lumped together with extremist Tea Party or alt-right Republicans, even though I adamantly disagree with those branches of the Republican party. I began to see a reflection of myself in these acquaintances that shuddered at the letters G-O-P. I realized that I had been rude and intolerant to the conservatives I worked with in high school, all while blindly believing that I was the better person. When you look down on your political opponent simply because you disagree, you cannot claim to be any better or more tolerant than anyone else.
It wasn’t just the way I was treated that caused this shift in my political alignment. I also began to meet more and more conservatives while I remained on the Rauner campaign and I realized how much the media misrepresents the party. The individuals I worked with were nothing like the crazy radicals I had seen quoted in headlines in The New York Times. Unlike the liberal students who had written me off and distanced themselves from me, these Republicans accepted me even though we disagreed on certain issues fundamentally (yes, not all republicans follow the party to a T). I believe many Democrats that might possibly lean conservative on some issues refuse to entertain the possibility out of fear of being ostracized by their friends, or they simply don’t realize that the popular misconceptions about the GOP are just that: misconceptions.